In the Lord’s Prayer we say Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is heaven. This always stumps me, because it makes me think of a theocracy, which I generally think of as a bad idea. A theocracy is a nation state that is ruled by religious leaders. Many monarchies are similar to a theocracy, because the kings or queens are blessed by the religious leaders. In both cases, there is a mixing of secular and religious laws so that the two can’t hardly be pulled apart. Almost all of our modern examples of theocracies and religious monarchies are Muslim, places that few Americans hold a positive view, like Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Caliphate of Isis.
Christian theocracies and monarchies in history have a similarly bad track record. In the Middle Ages, Europe was almost entirely ruled by both. The laws were in line with how these rulers viewed their Christian faith. The populating of North America in the 17th through 19th century was often by people fleeing these laws because legally they were not welcome. Most were Christian, but not the right sort of Christian. Some, like the Puritans in Massachusetts, whose arrival we celebrate with Thanksgiving this week, arrived and set up their own theocracy, ruling with laws that matched their strict interpretation of scripture and suspicious of all other outsiders.
The United States became a country that outlawed theocracies and religious monarchies in our constitution. Our country would have no recognition of religion in our laws, nor national church or religion tests for office. While we all recognize that the Constitution separates Church and State, we don’t agree with what that means. Arguments over having monuments to the Ten Commandments on courthouse steps underline that most Americans believe our laws should reflect Christian law. The majority of Americans want their secular leaders to be Christian. All of our twenty presidential candidates are not only Christian, they talk often on the stump about their faith. Over a third of Americans think that President Barack Obama is Muslim, regardless of what he says or the church he attends on Sunday. Almost all who believe he is Muslim, see this as reason number one not to trust him. In Iowa at the Family Leadership Summit this week, nearly all Republican candidates for President gave speeches to enthusiastic applause declaring that this nation is a Christian nation. I can’t help but wonder if any of this mixing of nationalism and Christianity is wrapped up in what we say in the Lord’s prayer, Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is heaven.
“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here’” (John 18:36). I used to think that this statement by Jesus to Pilate at his trial was about timing. “My kingdom hasn’t been formed yet Pilate, if it had, we would kick your butt. So, you’re lucky, my soldiers don’t have any swords, yet.” Now, I am paying more attention to the first part of Jesus’ statement, “My Kingdom is not from this world.” Jesus’ Kingdom is not like our sorts of Kingdom. It is not that he hasn’t raised an army yet to fight Pilate, he never will. Kingdoms in our world need armies, but Christ’s Kingdom has no need for armies, borders, flags, laws or any of the other sort of stuff we think of that are necessary for any functional, respectable kingdom.
This was an aha moment for me. Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is heaven is not a prayer for Christ’s Kingdom to come like dominoes, as first America becomes Christ’s kingdom, then she leads the charge, so other kingdoms fall, until eventual victory, thy Kingdom Come! I am not praying for the day when Christ will be my King for “real”, wiping out the petty kings of this world in one apocalyptic bloody mess. When this prayer is answered and Christ’s Kingdom comes it simply won’t look like anything we know kingdoms to look like. It is wholly, and completely different, from another place. My Kingdom is not from this world.
I am, though, from this world. In the midst of living in this world, my prayer in the Lord’s Prayer is that I find my way to God’s future kingdom. Even as I pledge allegiance to America, led by a President Hillary Clinton or President Donald Trump, I will pray always that my greater allegiance be to Christ my King, and His kingdom that is not from this world. This prayer is not only future oriented. We pray today that we will stumble into pockets of Christ’s Kingdom that already exist. We might not notice this Kingdom, because it has no checkpoints to keep outsiders out, or armies to secure her borders. But we will know it when we discover grace, given and received, people living sacrificially for others. For this is the resurrection that Jesus revealed that is his kingdom. By the power of the Spirit, promised that the kingdom has already arrived.
58 year old Diane Latiker has lived for more than 30 years in a small two bedroom house in the Roselawn neighborhood of the South side of Chicago. About twelve years ago, she got worried about what her 13 year old could do in their neighborhood with her free time. The parks weren’t safe, the boarded houses that surrounded her weren’t safe, the vacant lots weren’t safe. She said in an interview that when she started she thought that everyone would want to help kids, but that wasn’t the case. Kingdoms of this world have a way of not noticing the least among us. All her requests for help were met with sorry, but…So she just threw open her doors and invited kids into her tiny house. She wrote silly rap songs, that they would spend days making videos for, and took them skating or to the movies. First, a few came, then a few more, and by the end of the year, over 70 kids were crowding into her tiny house and yard regularly.
Twelve years later, her organization, Kids Off the Block, is a nonprofit that is supported by her church and others, fundraisers, and philanthropies. They have served 2000 kids in Roselawn, but most of the planning still happens in her tiny home. She says they do the normal things you would expect, homework help in church basements and basketball tournaments held on a the site Kids Off the Block raised money to reclaim, where a dangerous boarded up house had stood. But the biggest thing we do, she said, is we just notice these kids, care for them, believe in them, tell them we want them to be well, and she added tearing up, we remember them when they are killed. Next to that new basketball court is a brick memorial with over 400 names of people killed in Chicago by gun violence. They are raising money to add another 500 or so bricks to the display. The interview I heard ended with her reading names and telling the stories of the many she knew when they were ten or twelve running in her streets.
Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is heaven. As long as we need borders and armies and laws, telling us who is in and who is out, the Kingdoms of this world will never be Christ’s Kingdom. Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world. This is a prayer that every person mumbling these words, in Chicago, Columbus, Reynoldsburg, Paris, Raqqa, Damascus, Baghdad, Berlin, or Mali, live out their lives that day in God’s Kingdom. Our prayer is that Messiah be a place where God’s Kingdom is known and seen. And when the Diane Latiker’s come to our door with a great idea to love those that the Kingdoms of our world ignore, we will recognize that Thy kingdom has come, on earth as it is heaven. Amen